If you’re looking for a new way to cut the cord with the big cable companies but still get access to the very best in TV entertainment, one relatively new option is Amazon Channels. Officially, it’s part of Amazon Prime Video, so you might not have heard of it if you’re not already an Amazon Prime member.
How Amazon Channels works
At its core, Amazon Channels is a way for Amazon Prime members to get a la carte access to premium TV channels like HBO, Showtime or Cinemax without having to sign up for any streaming services like Hulu or Sling TV. And you don’t even have to sign up for a bundle, like you would with most streaming TV services. In fact, one of the slogans for Amazon Channels is “No bundle, no contract.” How cool is that?
So here’s how you might use Amazon Channels: Say that you’re a big HBO fan, and an even bigger fan of “Game Of Thrones.” Unfortunately, if you’ve cut the cord to cable, you’ve lost access to HBO. You’d either have to sign up for a streaming service that offers HBO as part of a bundle, or you’d have to look for ways to get HBO directly without any intermediaries.
With Amazon Channels, you’d be able to sign up for HBO even if you didn’t have a cable subscription or any streaming bundle. And, in fact, the home page for Amazon Channels is currently highlighting the chance to get caught up on “Game of Thrones” before Season 7 starts.
As a result, Amazon Channels is a great alternative for TV fans. Better yet, you can handle all of your payments and subscriptions via Amazon. There are no contracts, and all you have to worry about are the monthly payments. Oh, and you can decide to cancel at any time, so it’s basically worry-free.
What content is available on Amazon Channels?
Here’s just a brief rundown of the very best Amazon Channels:
- Comic Con HQ
- History Vault
- Comedy Central Stand-Up
- PBS Kids
- PBS Masterpiece Theater
You can see that there’s a good mix in there, with an emphasis primarily on the premium movie channels. The list of content providers for Amazon Channels can change, and there are plenty of niche channels available:
- Lifetime Movie Club
- Curiosity Stream
- Acorn TV
- Tribeca Shortlist
- Anime Strike
And it’s all very affordable. The content providers can vary their costs, but in early 2017, the cost of HBO was $14.99 per month and the cost of PBS Kids was $4.99 per month. So there can be a big price gap. Generally speaking, the most expensive channels are going to be the premium movie channels.
Amazon Channels vs. Netflix
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: OK, so how is Amazon Channels different from Netflix or Hulu? The biggest difference is that you have to be an Amazon Prime member to get access to Amazon Channels, and that’s going to cost $99 per year.
But if you compare the cheapest Netflix plan – $9.99/month – with the cost of Amazon Prime on an annual basis, you can see that it’s actually cheaper to sign up for Amazon Prime and get access to Amazon Channels. As a Prime member, you would also get all the on-demand titles available via Amazon Prime Video.
You can think of Amazon Channels as being a gateway to premium TV channels. You’re ordering off an a la carte menu, able to get the exact TV channels that you want. When you go to the Amazon Channel page, you’ll see what this means in practical terms: it almost feels like you are ordering specific movies and shows rather than specific channels.
How Amazon Channels changes the streaming playing field
Obviously, all the big streaming video players are looking for ways to slice and dice streaming video content. The giant pie of streaming video content consists of the following three core options:
- Live TV (including news and sports)
- TV shows
Thus, you can see that Netflix gives you access to TV shows and movies, while Hulu gives you access to TV shows and live TV (if you get the new Hulu Live service). However, Netflix doesn’t give you live TV, and Hulu doesn’t have a great catalog of movie titles. And even if you get Hulu Live, you’re not getting HBO, which would be a premium add-on.
So Amazon lets you get exactly what you want. You get all the movies and shows via Amazon Prime Now and you get access to live premium TV with Amazon Channels. You can think of this as being a true “skinny bundle” – if you want, you only have to sign up for a single TV channel.
How to use Amazon Channels
So how do you access all this content? Amazon makes it very easy to consume this content anywhere, at any time, on any device. Amazon Channels has been optimized for web browser (using Amazon’s own proprietary video player), as well as for both Android and iPhone, for tablets, and for some smart TVs (including TVs from LG, Samsung and Panasonic).
Amazon Channels could change the way we think about TV
It’s clear that the value proposition for Amazon Prime Video is growing, especially as Amazon continues to come up with new innovations like Amazon Channels. Slowly but surely, Amazon is developing its Netflix alternative.
At one time, Netflix was the clear streaming leader. Then came Hulu, and the choice wasn’t so clear, especially if you love prime time TV shows. Then came Sling TV, which enabled live streaming TV and convenient “skinny bundles.” All of these services are tailor-made for the digital era. They are easy to sign up for online, and they are month-to-month, without those outrageous annual contracts.
So, in many ways, Amazon Channels is the next logical iteration, since it breaks apart the “skinny bundle.” You’re literally just ordering one TV channel at a time, if that’s what you like.
Is there an e-commerce angle to Amazon Channels?
What will be interesting to see is how Amazon integrates e-commerce capabilities into this new offering. As mentioned already, Amazon Channels is part of Amazon Prime Video, which is part of Amazon Prime. So you can see the business dynamic at work here – Amazon is using all these new video services to win over new e-commerce users. Sign up for HBO or Showtime on the Amazon website, and then order a movie or show while you’re at it!
For their part, the major TV channels must be wondering what’s next for them. A few of the biggest TV channels – like HBO, Showtime and Cinemax – have figured out how to win over viewers without the need for the big cable companies. Right now, you can sign up for HBO directly, without even the need for Amazon Channels. So, for HBO, this Amazon alliance is just icing on the cake, one more way to develop loyal viewers.
But that’s not necessarily the case for the smallest TV channels. For example, one of the early partners for Amazon Channels is Heera – if you’re like most people, you’ve never heard of this channel. It’s a TV channel that Amazon created for fans of Indian movies and Bollywood shows. Suddenly, a niche network like Heera is relevant. So that might be the future of Amazon Channels – the arrival of a lot of very small niche players dependent on Amazon for their future survival.
One thing is clear – Amazon has emerged as one of the smartest, strongest and most capable players in streaming video. They’ve been steadily building their credibility as a powerhouse for original content, and now they have become a real rival to all the streaming video players that emerged as part of the whole cord-cutting phenomenon. Amazon Channels is one to keep an eye on.